Tuesday, September 20, 2011

pipe dream gear vs. obtainable gear

Check out my dream world shopping spree:  a couple of Canon 5d M2's , probably a 1D M4, 70-200mm f2.8 L IS, 50mm f1.2, 85mm L, a tilt-shift or two, maybe that Sigma 500mm from a previous post (it's a dream, why not?), Profoto lights, heavy-duty lightstands, powerpacks, giant octobox, etc. etc. etc.

I know you're probably having similar dreams.  But, slap!, snap out of it!  It's not gonna happen anytime soon (if Donald Trump just took up photography, feel free to not snap out of it and may I visit the warehouse sized studio you are probably putting together??  Also, I propose a new show, The Photography Apprentice).

So, how can you and I pimp our photography on a budget?  There are many inexpensive items that can dramatically improve your photography.  Of course you will want to invest in a good DSLR, but if you're not being snobby you will quickly come to realize that many cameras on the consumer or prosumer end of the scale are really amazing and can do the job.  This is true of many cheaper lenses, too, if you take into consideration the limitations.  Just as an example, for shots from recent posts of models and airshows, most of those images were shot with a $210 Sigma 70-300mm lens.  This lens, while having a nice macro feature, is terrible in low light and really only shines when using the sweet spot around f11 or f13.  Still, if you know that and are in reasonable well lit situations, this can be terrific.

OK, so you've got your camera and lens.  Now what?  Well, speedlites, lightstands, brackets, triggers, slaves, backdrops, diffusers, teleconverters, gels, etc. etc. etc.

While it would be nice to get the best of everything, there are some terrific alternatives.  I'm going to list a few of the types of items that can be obtained in the under $100 dollar category.

  • Speedlite diffusers from Stofen to Gary Fong
  • Gels (I just order a sample pack for $4 plus shipping -- all appropriately sized for speedlites)
  • umbrella brackets
  • umbrellas
  • lightstands (Cowboy Studio, even some of the self-opening ones from Cheetahstands)
  • backdrop fabric from a fabric store (or sheets, curtains, etc. from garage sales)
  • backdrop support systems
  • memory cards
  • batteries
  • filters
  • teleconverters
  • macro filters
  • cheapo triggers and receivers from cowboy studio or cheaplights
  • cheapo flashes like the YN-560 speedlight flashes or oldies but goodies from Ebay
  • tripod or gorillapod
  • tripod head
  • camera bag
  • eyecup
  • loupe for lcd screen
  • 18% grey card or other white balance tools
  • image editing software (some, it's true)

Anyway, you get the idea.  There are alternatives to going broke getting gear.  It may require some creativity and it will certainly mean some upping of your game to work around the limitations of the cheaper gear, but I think you will be happy with the kit you can create without breaking the bank.  BTW, many of the third-party vendors that make gear can be found through Amazon.   Check the comments for each item though.  Sometimes it is better to buy the good stuff once, rather than the cheap stuff repeatedly.  That being said, I've had good luck with several cheapo items, namely the Cowboy Studio triggers and receivers, the Impact umbrella brackets, el cheapo lightstands and umbrellas, and even really old strobeheads (see a recent post below).

Good luck, good shopping, and good shooting!  ~RW

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